The name “Playboy” has all sorts of negative connotations. It conjures up images of sleazy men manipulating young women with the promise of success, of sexism, and of stacks of porno mags shamefully hidden in the closet or under the bed. This reputation has continued throughout Playboy magazine’s lifetime, despite time and time again showing that these negative beliefs aren’t true. Playboy has long been a figurehead of sexual empowerment, challenging the norm, and freedom for all.
When the first issue of Playboy was released in 1953, America was at peak conservatism. For a magazine to be so open about something as simple as sex was already taboo. However, the controversy didn’t stop with centerfolds and sex columns. In 1965, Playboy released an article advocating for the legalization of abortion. And in 1971, Darine Stern became the first black woman to grace the cover, causing public outrage.
Since the conception of the magazine, Hefner made his support for the LGBT community very clear, advocating for equal rights and sponsoring various AIDS charities and featuring a trans woman inside the magazine in 1981. Playboy has also been a huge proponent of free speech during its time, fighting censorship and obscenity laws in the Supreme Court. Even today, Playboy is still seen as a controversial magazine for its support for these same rights.
But it’s not just the content and the morals behind Playboy that made it so controversial. Hundreds of women have graced the pages over the years, and because we live in a society that shames sexually open women, they’ve faced backlash, from losing their jobs or positions in schools to public ridicule and abuse.
The fact is, the women of Playboy are sex symbols and they know it. While there are exceptions to the rule (there always are!), women choose to be in Playboy to express and empower themselves. Some of them reinforced their position as sex symbols, like Marilyn Monroe, or they became the sex symbols of a generation, like Pamela Anderson.
Despite the negative reactions from the public, the women of Playboy have gone on to do amazing things. When E! re-created seven Playboy covers in 2017, the women maintain that the magazine set them up for the future, whether it be financially or through brand connections, or simply by giving them the confidence to pursue their desires. Playboy allowed, and still allows, women to reach their goals by empowering them, and thus empowering women everywhere. After all, if she’s a girl next door just like you, why can’t you have the same confidence and power?
Today, Playboy is a symbol of freedom—and not just sexual freedom. It continues to break boundaries with its thoughtful articles. Its female readership has shot up in recent years. Women of all sizes are celebrated, and they even had their first transgender Playmate, Ines Rau, on the cover in 2017. In September, the Playboy Club in New York City opened its doors, and Cooper Hefner says there are plans for a gay Playboy Club in West Hollywood. 2018 seems to be the perfect time for the Playboy brand to use its power to the fullest extent, advocating for empowerment for all.